Spain beat Latvia to top Group F with Sweden

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OVIEDO, Spain, Sep 13 (Reuters) Spain laboured to a 2-0 home win over Latvia to join Sweden at the top of Group F in their Euro 2008 qualifier.

Barcelona midfielder Xavi opened the scoring yesterday after 13 minutes but Spain struggled to add to the score against technically inferior, though well-organised, opposition.

It was not until five minutes from time that striker Fernando Torres pounced for the second to secure the result.

Spain moved above Northern Ireland into second place, level on 19 points with Sweden who have a game in hand. Northern Ireland, who earlier lost 2-1 to Iceland, have 16 points.

''It's clear we are better but we need to prove that on the pitch,'' midfielder David Albelda told Spanish state television.

''The difference on the pitch is not reflected in the scoreline.

We missed a lot of chances.'' Coach Luis Aragones had criticised his players for their poor start in the 1-1 draw away to Iceland on Saturday, and they responded with a bright opening in Oviedo.

They moved the ball around quickly and midfielder Xavi set Torres through on goal after 11 minutes with a defence-splitting pass but the striker's first touch was poor.

Soon after, Joaquin broke down the right flank beating his man and crossed low for Xavi to score with a simple tap in.

Having got the early goal they had spoken of, however, Spain failed to press home the advantage their dominance of possession should have given them.

In the 36th minute, they were almost caught out when Maris Verpakovskis just failed to get his foot to a cross, prompting some whistles from the home fans.

Spain upped the tempo after the break and Joaquin, substitute Andres Iniesta and Torres all went close.

The relentless pressure paid off at the end when Iniesta crossed low for Miguel Angel Angulo to shoot. The keeper saved but Torres was on hand to stick the loose ball home.

REUTERS BJR BST1106

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